Okinawa retracts approval of landfill work for U.S. base transfer

Okinawa Prefecture retracted Friday its approval of landfill work for the relocation of a key U.S. military base, citing illegality in the procedure, in line with an instruction from the late Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga.

The withdrawal of the 2013 approval given by Onaga’s predecessor is seen as a last-resort attempt to block the U.S.-Japan plan to transfer U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.

Before his death due to pancreatic cancer on Aug. 8, Onaga had instructed local officials to launch procedures to retract the decision. The central government postponed landfill work that was scheduled to begin on Aug. 17 without providing any explanation for the decision.

The prefectural government move is expected to draw voters’ attention to the base relocation issue in the run-up to the Sept. 30 contest to pick Onaga’s successor and a series of local assembly elections in early September.

The Okinawa government argues a local Defense Ministry bureau’s claim that the landfill work is legitimate is groundless as the bureau failed to consult with the prefectural authorities on specific ways to proceed with the construction in violation of a prior agreement, according to a source close to the matter.

The prefecture also maintains the bureau’s measures to protect the environment have been insufficient, the source said.

The local government had a hearing on the bureau’s argument and compiled a report on it on Aug. 20. The withdrawal of the approval will immediately stop the construction work for the base relocation, but the central government is expected to take legal action to resume the landfill process.

Onaga had opposed the plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both in Okinawa, and demanded the facility be moved outside the prefecture.

(Protesters in canoes rally in Henoko in 2017)

In October 2015, Onaga revoked his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima’s approval of the central government’s request for landfill work in Nago, pointing to the legal «defects» in Nakaima’s decision. But the Supreme Court ruled against Onaga’s position in December 2016, leading to the resumption of the construction.

The upcoming gubernatorial race is expected to be a two-way battle between opposition lawmaker Denny Tamaki, who was reportedly designated by Onaga as his preferred successor, and Atsushi Sakima, a former Ginowan mayor backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

The Abe administration has been pushing for relocation of the base within the prefecture, but Sakima has not made his position on the matter clear. Tamaki has expressed his opposition to the controversial transfer, saying he will «fulfill the last wish» of Onaga.

All — Kyodo News+

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